In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that an invocation at a High School graduation was in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Writing for the majority Justice Kennedy states that “the government’s involvement in religious exercises at graduation is ‘pervasive’ and unavoidable. The state creates both public and peer pressure on the students to rise for and remain silent during prayers. State officials not only determine that an invocation and benediction should be given, but also select the religious participant and provide guidelines for the content of the nonsectarian prayers.”
I'm not sure I completely agree with the original reasoning, but not being able to pray at graduation isn’t going to diminish my faith or my relationship with God in any meaningful way. I usually spend the invocation fuming over the incessant chatting that goes on in the midst of it...yet another reason to abhor graduation ceremonies. Frankly, it’s amazing that in our small town the high school has managed to avoid detection for the last 17 graduation ceremonies. It ends this year.
At the center of the controversy is a student whose questioning of the legality of prayer led to an overly-cautious administration shutting the practice down. Rumors abound. The discussion around school and around town has been rather heated and somewhat ridiculous (talk of "going back to where they came from"....do atheists have a homeland?) Most of the banter has borne little resemblance to the truth and certainly no resemblance to Christianity. It’s understandable to be upset over having yet another of our traditions stripped away, but it is unacceptable that people would be vindictive and cruel to an 18yr.old girl because of her beliefs. And it's not a very compelling method of persuading anyone to our side of the argument; coercion is hardly an effective conversion tool.
Wouldn’t it have said more about our faith if we could have accepted the decision with grace and a determination to be a positive witness in the situation? I don’t like the idea that God is being taken out of much of the public arena, and I doubt the sincerity of many who are determined to strip our lives of any religious references. But our reaction to this minor persecution is much more important than securing the right to say a prayer at graduation or have a crèche on the courthouse lawn. If a moment of silence is all that is offered...use it. Let’s pray for our country, our town, our neighbors...pray for the non-believers.
And while we’re at it, thank God that we live in a country where taking prayer out of graduation can even be considered a problem.